The Warrior’s Way values being present and focusing our attention in the moment. But what is the benefit of being present? Should we be present based on how important a task is? For example, is it more important to be present for tasks like achieving goals, than to be present for simple tasks like making coffee? A better question might be: what’s the benefit of not being present?
The benefit of not being present is comfort. The mind has an unconscious desire to seek comfort and being present requires us to deal with stress. Even focusing on simple tasks is stressful because it requires effort to keep our attention on task. Therefore, the benefit of not being present, isn’t really a benefit at all. We’re simply reacting to the mind’s motivation toward being comfortable. One of the main benefits, then, of being present is being aware when our attention isn’t focused in the moment. Disciplining the mind, so we’re aware when it seeks escape in habitual thinking, is an important part of mental training.
We need to also assess the word “important.” Are goals more important than being present for simple tasks? In order to determine a benefit we need to understand what we value. Understanding this requires us to look at our motivation. If we’re motivated toward goals, then that’s what we’ll value as more important; if we’re motivated towards being present, then being present is valued as more important.
There are benefits to achieving goals. We receive evidence that what we learned does produce results. Our learning is tested, and we passed the test. The benefit of being present is that the quality of our attention is heightened; the quality of our thinking, decision-making, and actions is heightened. With heightened quality we move more quickly toward our goals, making fewer mistakes. To summarize, the benefit of being present is the heightened quality of the learning process; the benefit of achieving goals is testing the effectiveness of our learning.
Therefore, one isn’t more important than the other. Rather, we need to find a way to include both and guide what we focus on based on what we can control. We can’t control the future; we can only control the present. Processes, not goals, occur in the present. Therefore, we need to focus on processes so we’re present for whatever task we’re doing. If we need to think about setting goals, then the task that is occurring in the present moment is thinking. We need to commit full attention to the task of thinking. If we need to take actions toward a goal, then the task that’s occurring in the present moment is engaging the body to take action. We need to commit full attention to the task of taking action.
But there’s something deeper going on here also. We feel most alive when our attention is in the moment. This is one reason we’re attracted to risk sports, such as climbing; they force our attention into the moment. We enjoy climbing because the stressors of everyday life fall away. Simple tasks can offer a similar benefit.
Life occurs in the present moment. If our attention is distracted by the mind’s habitual thinking, then we miss the present. Our conscious awareness is based on what we pay attention to. Developing awareness requires us to expand what we’re conscious of. When our attention is focused in the moment we’re connected with the activity we’re doing, with others, and even more connected to ourselves. When we make coffee, we can focus our attention on how the coffee smells and be grateful for having coffee in our lives.
If we focus our attention on the task, even simple ones, we improve the quality of our lives. We also discipline the mind, not letting it distract our attention toward seeking comfort. We realize that whatever task we’re doing, in the moment, is important. Therefore, we identify what we should focus on and redirect our attention when the mind distracts it. The benefit of being present is we take control of our attention and bring quality to our lives.
Practice Tip: Set intention on being present
You use your mind to think. Make sure your thinking is intentional, not habitual. Decide when to think. Then, when it’s not time to think, set an intention to focus your attention in two directions: inwardly on the activities of the mind and outwardly engaging your senses.
By having your attention focused inwardly you’ll notice the mind distracting your attention. Then, redirect your attention to your intent: notice the mind and engage your senses.